Counselling Courses: Choosing The Right Counselling Course
Counselling is one of the fastest growing occupations in Australia. According to the Australian government job site Job Outlook (1), the counselling profession is expected to grow by 18%; with around 22,000 job openings (4,400 per year for 5 years). This growth is driven largely by increasing consumer need.
The statistics on the mental health and welfare of Australians is stark. With 45% of Australian adults experiencing a mental health condition at some time in their lifetime, and with mental ill-health costing our nation an estimated $4,000 per person each year ($60 billion per year), there is a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals and groups within our communities (2).
Whilst the community need for Counsellors and their services is clear, the path to become a qualified and registered Counsellor can be less so. As a self-regulating profession, there is no single path to follow. There can in fact be a variety of paths that lead to a career as a Counsellor. The best path for an individual can depend on a range of factors, such as life commitments (do you need to work while studying; do you have family commitments you need to fit study around); current occupation (do you work in an allied or adjunct profession); and prior education and experience (are you seeking a post-graduate qualification in counselling).
So which path is the right path for you?
As a course in counselling will require a minimum of between one year and four years of study, education is a big investment, so selecting the right course is imperative. In this article we discuss the most important considerations when choosing the right counselling course for you and your circumstances.
Industry accreditation and recognition
As counselling is self-regulated (as is Social Work), it’s likely that once you graduate you’ll want, and possibly need, membership to an industry association. An industry association provides its members with important products and services that facilitate their credibility and ability to work in the profession. These include professional indemnity insurance, supervision, continuing professional development, a code of ethics and complaints process, and more.
Many employers make it a mandatory requirement for their employed counsellors to maintain membership to an industry association. This provides the employer with assurance that their employed counsellors continue to maintain supervision, professional development, and remain bound by a set of professional practice and accountability standards.
Some of the larger industry associations also accredit training courses. This industry accreditation is in addition to government accreditation, and ensures that courses are delivered to a high standard, and that courses contain the level of training expected by employers and consumers.
The largest industry association for counsellors in Australia is the Australian Counselling Association (ACA). ACA provides its members with all the products and services stated above. It also provides members with access to the largest Job Portal in the industry. Due to its unique position in the market, it is able to liaise with a large range of employers of Counsellors nationally, listing their positions on its Job Portal. As a result, ACA lists thousands of jobs available to its members on its Jobs Portal each year, many of these not being listed elsewhere.
Members of the Australian Counselling Association are also able to access other unique job and work opportunities including through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), many private health funds and the Police Health Fund, Workcover NSW, as well as other opportunities, such as e-health partnerships, numerous Employee Assistance Programs, plus tenders issued by Primary Health Networks.
You can learn more about ACA and find a list of their accredited courses here: Australian Counselling Association.
A common question for new counsellors is, what level of qualification do I need?
The best basis from which to answer this question is to reference the member levels of the Australian Counselling Association (ACA). As the largest industry association for Counsellors in Australia, ACA has established its tiers of membership around levels of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), as well as job and employer demand.
ACA has four (4) levels of membership. The first two levels are available to Counsellors with a Diploma of Counselling qualification (which is also industry accredited by ACA). Counsellors are able to move from Level 1 to Level 2 after gaining industry experience, as well as maintaining supervision and ongoing professional development.
Levels 3 and 4 are available to Counsellors with a minimum Bachelor of Counselling. Counsellors wanting to enter the industry through a graduate pathway can do so with a Master of Counselling qualification.
As counselling services are typically delivered via a stepped-care model, from early intervention through to clinical services, there is high demand for counselling services across all qualifications and levels. It is common for counsellors to enter the industry via a Diploma qualification and progress their learning with higher qualifications as they work in the industry.
Statistically, the majority of workers entering the counselling industry are entering their second or third career. They are typically 30-years plus, and are seeking a more personally rewarding career; one that draws upon their own life experiences and provides value back to the community.
This demographic typically has lifestyle constraints that need to be considered when embarking on a course of study. Whether it’s a young family at home, existing work commitments, or both, the delivery mode of the course is often fundamental to their training decision.
Courses that offer online learning, supported by strong support systems and community, are most popular. They provide learners with the flexibility to fit learning around other commitments, yet provide the support and community frameworks that keep learners engaged and motivated.
Specialist areas of training
It’s common for Counsellors to work in a specialty area. These areas are usually of particular interest to the Counsellor. Specialising (or having several areas of specialty) also allows the Counsellor to provide higher value to an employer or consumer. This improves their competitiveness in the job market as well as in private practice.
Some training providers offer specialist training, which can be undertaken with the core qualification, or afterwards. For instance, the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC) delivers Study Majors in areas such as Abuse Counselling, Relationship Counselling, Grief & Loss Counselling, Child Development & Effective Parenting, Expressive Therapies, Mindfulness, Addictions, Family Therapy and more.
This integrated and embedded approach develops the Counsellor’s proficiency sequentially, in a more rounded approach, whilst providing the knowledge and skillset to flourish in the job market upon graduation.
Specialist v Generalists
As with all training and endeavours, who you learn from matters. Not only do training programs vary in their education quality and support, additional factors such as the industry reputation and the networks of the provider also matter.
As is typically the case in most industries, providers that specialise apply more resources into areas that influence their sector reputation. As they’re more reliant on a narrower range of courses, they need to ensure that those courses are the best in the sector.
When it comes to counselling, this means that specialist training providers pay significant attention to training quality (curriculum development and academic teams), industry networks (through employer relationships, industry events, etc), student support (enhancing the student experience) and alumni programs (taking care of students after they’ve graduated).
In terms of student experience, the Counsellor learning journey can be ‘chalk and cheese’ – the difference between being engaged and motivated or directionless and frustrated. Specialist providers focus extensively on the unique needs of the counselling student. This is reflected in their integration of quality into teaching, learning resources, educational support for students, and service. All of these factors directly influence the student’s learning experience.
Post Graduation Support
An important consideration for counselling students, and one which is commonly overlooked, is what post-graduation supports the training provider provides. As students focus their attention on beginning a course, too often they fail to consider what support they’ll need when they graduate. A comprehensive and supportive alumni program can mean the difference between attaining their career outcome, or not.
For instance, if you would like to set up your own private counselling practice, what support will you need from your training provider?
Some providers, like the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC) have a comprehensive Alumni program, which provides graduates with an extensive, free program on how to build their private practice. AIPC’s alumni also provides graduates with a full suite of documentation, worksheets and templates they’ll need when working as a Counsellor; as well as information and templates to use when applying for a counselling role.
About the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors
Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC) is Australia’s largest and longest established specialist counselling education provider. AIPC has been delivering counsellor education programs for over 30-years, and has a particular focus on online, blended and flexible training programs. AIPC delivers a Diploma of Counselling, Bachelor of Counselling and Master of Counselling. All AIPC counselling courses are industry accredited by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).
- Job Outlook: Website.
- Parliament of Australia: Website.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Website.
Whilst substantial care has been taken to ensure accuracy, this article is based on the opinion of the author. The reader is advised to undertake their own independent research.